Several metro-area Mormon leaders said fellow Mormon Mitt Romney's presidential campaign has brought opportunities for dialogue about their often misunderstood faith beliefs.
“I don't know if Mitt Romney is going to win or not, but it has elevated the conversation,” Dr. Gordon Bean, of Oklahoma City, said Wednesday.
Bean, president of the Oklahoma City South Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and two other Mormon leaders all agreed that Romney's bid for the White House has put their faith in the spotlight like never before.
Kent Bowman, of Edmond, is president of the Stillwater Stake and Kevin Graves, of Oklahoma City, is president of the Oklahoma City Stake. The men said a stake in the Mormon church is akin to a Roman Catholic or Episcopal diocese in terms of a congregations within certain geographical areas.
Graves, a senior executive for Quest Diagnostics, said there are about 13,000 Mormons in the metro area, and about 42,000 across the state.
He said he has enjoyed the increased interest in Mormonism that has been generated because of Romney's high profile.
“It's been a wonderful time to bring clarity and understanding to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” he said.
Bean said he has welcomed opportunities to correct misinformation about Mormonism.
“As hard as we try, there are still a lot of misperceptions and misunderstandings about the church,” he said. “This has created an opportunity for dialogue. Some of us are shy and some of us are bold. For all of us, whether you think you're ready or not, you're going to have an opportunity to tell people about your faith.”
For example, he said he saw Mitt Romney's wife, Ann, appear on a daytime television talk show where she was asked how it would be for her husband to greet families of troop members killed in the line of duty since Mormons don't believe in serving in the military. Bean said it was good to see Ann Romney take the time to explain that this was incorrect, that Mormons do serve in the military. Bean said he has several members of his stake who are stationed at Tinker Air Force Base, since his stake area includes the Midwest City and Del City area.
As for Tuesday's election, Graves said church members are encouraged to exercise their right to vote and to vote their conscience when doing so. However, they are not told who they should vote for, he said.
“I think we've benefited from having a member of our faith raise the awareness of our faith while we as a church have retained our neutrality. We really do try to remain separate from the political,” Graves said.
Bowman, a co-owner of several metro Jamba Juice establishments, said he does not impose his religious views on anyone, especially in the workplace. He said this election year with a Mormon presidential candidate has meant that more of his friends and workplace associates have come to him with questions about the Mormon faith.
“I've enjoyed that,” he said.
Bowman said he has been a registered voter since he was 18 and he tries to stay informed.
“I'm kind of looking forward to this election next week to see what develops,” he said.